As unbelievable as it seems, in the midst of our never-ending budget crisis, the plan from Governor Brown and the legislature’s Democrat majority comes down to this: “Give us what we want, or somebody’s going to get hurt.” If you’re starting to feel like our state government is holding a gun to our head, there’s probably a pretty good reason for that. Because that’s sure what it looks like to me.
Just a few days ago we got to see the legislature’s leaders here in Sacramento smiling and patting themselves on the backs having sent their budget bill to the Governor’s desk. There’s just one catch: the law requires our legislature to pass a “balanced” budget each year. They haven’t, and this budget isn’t. The “balanced” part of the budget, the hard part, has been left on our doorstep – with a ransom note firmly attached.
It is utterly irresponsible for our legislature to approve a budget plan that relies on the assumption that tax revenues will balance with spending if – but only if – voters agree to increase taxes on themselves. That’s just not right. Drafting and passing a balanced budget by June 15th each year is the sole responsibility of the legislature. It’s our job, and our responsibility, to pass a spending plan that relies on living within our means. The voters made that quite clear only a year and a half ago, when Proposition 25 was passed. Prop 25 was approved on the promise that a simple-majority budget would bring accountability to the state Capitol. But in that same election, voters also passed Proposition 26, adding even more budget accountability by strengthening our two-thirds protections for tax increases. What I don’t recall is voters giving lawmakers any powers to extort more tax dollars in return for keeping our schools open.
We probably shouldn’t be too surprised to see the majority party has found itself with new fiscal problems this year. After all, their spending plan last year was held together with four billion dollars of phantom tax revenues we were assured would arrive just in time to keep the state solvent. Should we really have been surprised when most of that four billion in phantom money failed to materialize? Should we be surprised that, even though the legislature’s own analyst urged the legislature’s leaders to cut spending months ago, they rejected that call? Should we be surprised that, now faced with a $15.7 billion deficit, the majority party lawmakers are demanding even more tax dollars, and are coupling those demands with threats to our children’s futures? Should we be surprised that their demands are coupled with a ransom note that reads “Don’t make us hurt you” on our way to the ballot box?
Here’s what would be a real surprise: Having the governor and legislative Democrats cut the size of government, streamline the bureaucracy, pass real pension reform, repeal the Dream Act, and stop the High-Speed Rail boondoggle in its tracks. Those are things the voters have made it clear we want. To complete the analogy, the majority party isn’t holding hostage the scraggly old alley cat of government bureaucracy. Instead, it’s threatening our cute little puppy dog of government services: our schools, our public safety, and other vital programs.
Even with all the talk of cuts, do you know the majority party is also planning to add about 1,000 new state employees during the coming fiscal year, along with a $25 billion increase in government spending over the next four years? Look at the 57 new positions created for the collection of the rural fire tax. While claiming cuts, the legislature is actually growing government spending, from $194 billion for all funds in 2007-08 to $225 billion for 2012-13. Again, that’s not surprising, considering that the majority party plans to increase spending starting in just a few days, even though we won’t have a chance to vote on the tax increase until November.
The legislators with majority power are making it clear they have no intention of taking on the hard work of reforming government, but instead, are intent on holding the rest of us responsible for any ugly outcomes. But this isn’t some old time gangster movie. In the real world, hostage situations rarely lead to happy endings.